WARREN - Convicted Trumbull County killer John Smith will spend at least another five years in prison after the Ohio Parole Board on Thursday declined a recommendation that would have freed him.
Smith, 41, formerly of Warren, has been serving a 15-years-to-life prison sentence for the 1991 murder of local principal and school board member Larry Graber.
The full Ohio Parole Board deliberated about 30 minutes before deciding that Smith should continue his incarceration until at least July of 2017.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins argued about 40 minutes at the Columbus hearing against the release that had been recommended by a parole officer.
In describing the crime as an "unrelented beating" that resulted in at least 50 wounds on Graber's body, Watkins stressed how the severity of the crime would truly be diminished if Smith were allowed to be released now.
''It boils down to what degree of punishment is sufficient,'' Watkins said earlier in the week. ''And I don't think 21 years is adequate punishment.''
Watkins said family members of the victim came from across the country, including San Francisco and Texas, to oppose the release at Thursday's hearing. Two brothers of the victim, Bruce Graber of New Jersey and Don Graber of Dayton, also addressed the board. The prosecutor said he believes the family's support helped sway the board.
As a result, Smith will remain incarcerated at Marion Correctional Institution.
Smith had confessed to killing Graber June 13, 1991, in a wooded area off the southeast shoreline of Mosquito Lake. He was beaten with a tree branch the thickness of a ball bat and left for dead.
A park ranger discovered Graber, 54, of Braceville, the next morning. He died later in the day from wounds to the head and upper body.
Smith turned himself in three days later, telling a Warren detective and an investigator in Watkins' office that he beat Graber to thwart a sexual advance by the educator. But Smith's defense attorney said after sentencing that it was not true.
The lawyer said a polygraph test given to Smith showed that he and Graber, principal at Howland Springs Elementary School and a LaBrae School Board member, only exchanged words before the beating took place.
An investigation showed that Graber and a man fitting Smith's description were seen together at a gay bar in Warren the night of the beating. Smith told police he and Graber left the bar and went to the lake. A Graber family member contends the two met over the telephone when his brother answered a call from a distraught individual over the crisis hotline.
Smith told a friend before he confessed and a polygraph expert later that he never felt threatened by Graber, but he wouldn't agree to sex acts with him unless he was paid.
In 2002, Smith filed a motion from his jail cell asking to withdraw his guilty plea - a request that was denied without a hearing by Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay.
Smith was turned down for parole in 2005.